New Zealand continues to proudly fund corruption and extremism


New Zealand is proud to support a UN agency that has recently been accused of serious corruption and other abuses of power and no official or minister has even acknowledged any issue.

In May this year the Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, Craig Hawke, reaffirmed New Zealand’s commitment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at the signing of a pledge committing $3 million of Kiwi taxpayer money, saying “New Zealand is proud to continue our long-standing commitment to UNRWA and to Palestinian refugees.” At the same meeting, Mr Krahenbuhl said “UNRWA is proud to partner with the Government of New Zealand.”

Mr Krahenbuhl is now at the centre of “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses including “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

No New Zealand official or Minister has said anything about these latest allegations against UNRWA or the historic findings of corruption, antisemitism, or other failings of the agency.

The Swiss, Dutch, and Belgium governments have frozen their donations to UNRWA and the Czech government has called for a thorough investigation. Last year, the United States stopped funding UNRWA citing a need for “reform and reset the UNRWA way of doing business”.  Some European countries have also expressed a need for reform within UNRWA; most notably, Switzerland’s foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis, said UNRWA is “part of the problem”.

New Zealand officials and Ministers have only ever praised UNRWA in public. The lack of criticism from New Zealand for a corrupt organisation that promotes extremism and that we support with our tax dollars is concerning.

The UN agency has also been found to use textbooks that promote antisemitism; UNRWA schools have been used as weapon caches by Hamas militants, some of whom are praised by UNRWA teachers; and UNRWA perpetuates the conflict by using a unique definition of “refugee” and perpetuating the idea of their “right of return”. IINZ has previously called attention to the fact that Kiwi taxpayers are funding extremism.

The New Conservative Party has made a pledge to “immediately cease new Zealand’s funding of UNRWA” if they are elected into government next year. No other political party, to our knowledge, has commented on UNRWA’s failings.

In a response to IINZ queries, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Rt Hon Winston Peters, said

“New Zealand monitors the performance of UN multilateral agencies through review of annual reporting and achievement of results against strategy, evaluations by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, and feedback from other donors and independent reviews…. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) maintains policies and protocols to prevent, identify and monitor any breaches in the use of funding and has demonstrated transparency on these matters…”New Zealand Foreign Minister, Rt Hon Winston Peters

However, as well as the continuing allegations of egregious corruption and abuse, UNRWA still has a “cash assistance” program that involves handing out cash to people in Gaza and Syria without any accountability or oversight for these disbursements, which in 2018 amounted to $244 million. UNRWA refused to allow the US Government Accountability Office to comprehensively audit the books and GAO concluded, “internal UNRWA audits do not assess controls for all cash assistance programs or whether contracts contain antiterrorism clauses.

IINZ has submitted an OIA request for more information on why New Zealand officials are apparently unaware of the major issues with the agency. However, UNRWA is one of a number of UN organisations where double standards are applied – especially in relation to Israel. As part of a new series exploring issues and busting myths around Israel, the Israel Institute of New Zealand has created short videos. One of these is on the topic of bias at the UN and includes a brief discussion of UNRWA. We would encourage you to view it and others in the series.





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